For some, it has been a longtime dream and for others it is a move motivated by business pressures – but be it with basics, suiting, pyjamas or accessories, an increasing number of independent retailers are branching out from buying brands into developing their own labels.
Times are still tough in the fashion industry: retailers face pressure from price rises, business rates and crumbling consumer confidence. Against this challenging backdrop, the resourceful independent sector is finding inventive ways to keep winning over customers, capitalising on their unique consumer and brand understanding to bite back at outside pressures by launching their own brands.
Launching an own label is a savvy move for independents – it provides benefits from improved margins and greater control of stock giving store owners a level of security against market pressures. Retailers at all levels must diversify their approaches, shifting their stores away from the traditional in order to draw in experience-hungry, digitally empowered customers with a taste of something unique, that they can’t find elsewhere. For indies, an own label might be an ideal solution. Ultimately, an own label can allow retailers to spread their retail wings beyond their normal sphere, through either wholesale opportunities or increased brand awareness.
Drapers spoke to retailers at different stages in the process to find out more about their motives.
Nazifa Movsoumova, founder of Modern Society in Shoreditch
I’ve always wanted to start designing, so the idea was always there – but a lot of the motivation was business-focused. The margin on your own products is much better than on third-party product. The reality of what’s happening in retail means the owners of boutiques need to get creative, and this is one of the best ways to do that. I think a lot of boutiques will be moving to that kind of model in the future in order to expand their businesses.
We launched our own label about eight or nine months after opening the store, which meant the brand was more established. There are now seven styles of unisex T-shirts, shirts, knitwear and sweatshirts in many colours, as well as two collaborations, with [sunglasses brand] ZanZan and [contemporary womenswear brand] Être Cecile – T-shirts start at £50 and a cashmere jumper is £160. The label has been a bestseller since we launched it.
We’ve not so much introduced a brand as basics that will fit well in our shop and complement the designers we already have. When I design and produce items, even if it’s a simple indigo shirt, I know what I’m going to have dropping into the store in six months’ time, so I know what will be a perfect basic that goes with everything.
We’d consider wholesaling in the future, but not yet. The production is quite challenging. I am juggling the buying and the shop and the production [in the UK and Portugal], so I’m not spending as much time on the label as I would love to. Before I consider anything, I need to make sure there are no hiccups, because I don’t want to be letting other people down.
Starting the label has also been good for me, because I understand the challenges of production for the designers [that I stock]. I communicate with them in a completely different way now that I understand what they’re going through.
Emma Holland, director of Victoria Beau in Islington
I’ve liked drawing up unique designs from an early age and, since opening Victoria Beau in north London in 2015, I’ve gained a better understanding of what styles and cuts people tend to be drawn to. The lack of stylish and affordable options has made me want to produce an own-brand range that fills that gap, and which I can have better control over. It will be a stylish but still affordable brand that works for both sophisticated mums and daughters.
The improved margin of an own label is a great plus from a business perspective, and of course the supply control element of it will be great. I’m most excited, though, about having the opportunity to use my personal branding and marketing style to their best ability and seeing my vision come to life.
We are in the very early stages of production at the moment. Sample shapes are being made and print ideas are being discussed. To begin with, it will probably be a very focused collection of four or five items, and our label will draw from a combination of the other brands’ influences and offer the best bits of all of them.
Joanna Davies, founder of Black White Denim in Cheshire
We launched BWD Basics nearly four years ago. My customers wanted quality jersey basics to ”glue” their wardrobes together, and I couldn’t find any that didn’t stretch, shrink, twist or get holes in them.
Having the label helps to support our belief that buying quality basics in black, white and denim is a foolproof way to shop. It gives us an opportunity to deliver precisely what our customers are asking us for, and it is a high-margin brand that we never put into Sale. Our prices range from £45 for a camisole to £80 for a maxi-dress. As a percentage of our overall turnover, BWD Basics is small, but it is our highest-ranking brand in terms of unit sales, turnover and gross profit.
Having an own label gives an independent store more of an opportunity to wholesale and increase brand awareness. It also allows us control over the stock levels of higher-volume styles, delivers great retail margins and offers a brand USP.
The brand fits perfectly with the others that we have in the store – that’s why we launched it. Pair a short-sleeved, V-necked grey T-shirt with a Rixo London skirt or a long-sleeved, round-necked white top with J Brand jeans. The styling possibilities are endless. A retailer without a decent ongoing supply of quality jersey basics is like a grocery store without bread, butter and milk.
Tracey Davies, co-owner of The Square in Monmouth
We went to India a year ago and met up with a woman who ran a small factory there. We felt there was a gap in the market for pyjamas, sleepwear and loungewear made from really high-quality jersey. She made us about 15 pairs of pyjamas to a simple, very easy-to-wear specification [as a test]. We tried them out in the store and they sold incredibly quickly. From speaking to customers and a few agents we know, we realised we were on to something.
A friend of mine has a small cottage industry in Wales, and now we’re working with her. She’s designed the pyjamas and is making the first prototypes. We’re hoping they will be in store this month or next. There will be two styles, each set costing under £100. We’re keeping it small until we know how it all works. It’s crazy to have a massive outlay, especially in these difficult times, so we want to try it out and see how it goes.
It’s good to be doing something innovative. We’re around clothes all the time but it’s quite nice to be doing something yourself in terms of design. It’s all going to be British-made, which is unusual, and we thought it would be good to work with local people and use their skills.
Rising prices make the margins very small on some brands and, with rates and the other costs involved, you have to diversify your stores a little bit. For example, we’re opening a little coffee bar here – you have to be one step ahead.
It’s about keeping moving: if you’re just going to stand in a shop and expect people to come to you, it’s really not going to happen. If you want it to be successful, you need to work at it and change it and offer something a bit different. Especially these days, when everything is so instant, we have to be able to keep up with people in bigger cities. You have to try.